Discretionary Spending Option 21
Function 500 - Education, Training, Employment, and Social Services
Eliminate Federal Funding for National Community Service and Senior Community Service Employment Programs
CBO periodically issues a compendium of policy options (called Options for Reducing the Deficit) covering a broad range of issues, as well as separate reports that include options for changing federal tax and spending policies in particular areas. This option appears in one of those publications. The options are derived from many sources and reflect a range of possibilities. For each option, CBO presents an estimate of its effects on the budget but makes no recommendations. Inclusion or exclusion of any particular option does not imply an endorsement or rejection by CBO.
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Note: This option would take effect in October 2014.
National community service programs provide financial and in-kind assistance to students, seniors, and others who volunteer in their communities in areas such as education, public safety, the environment, and health care. In fiscal year 2013, funding for national community service programs totaled $1.4 billion. About $1.0 billion supported programs of the Corporation for National & Community Service (CNCS), which includes AmeriCorps and the National Senior Service Corps. The other $0.4 billion supported the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP), which is administered by the Department of Labor. Participants in those national community service programs may receive wages, stipends for living expenses, training, and subsidies for health insurance and child care. In addition, upon completing their service, participants of certain CNCS programs may earn education awards in amounts up to the maximum value of the Pell grant ($5,550 for 2013) paid from the National Service Trust. In 2012, participation in AmeriCorps was roughly 76,000; in the National Senior Service Corps, 360,000; and in SCSEP, 70,000.
This option would eliminate federal funding for national community service programs and for SCSEP, reducing outlays by $11 billion from 2015 through 2023, the Congressional Budget Office estimates. (That estimate includes the savings in administrative costs associated with terminating the programs.)
An argument in favor of this option is that funding community service programs at the local level might be more efficient than funding them at the federal level because the benefits of community service accrue locally rather than nationally. From that standpoint, the local government, community, or organization that receives the benefits would know better whether a service project was valuable enough to fund and which service projects should receive the highest priority in tight budgetary situations. Another rationale for eliminating student-focused national service programs and associated education benefits is that they do not focus exclusively on low-income students, which is a goal of federal programs that provide financial aid to students. Because participation in AmeriCorps is not based on family income or assets, funds do not necessarily go to the poorest students to help them learn through service and pursue a postsecondary education.
An argument against implementing this option is that the programs provide opportunities for participants of all socioeconomic backgrounds to engage in public service and to develop skills that are valuable in the labor market. In addition, relative to other approaches, the programs may offer a cost-effective way of providing community service because of the low budgetary cost per hour of service provided.